Samsung launches $300M autonomous driving fund, puts $90M into TTTech

 Not to be outpaced in the connected car market by other tech giants, today the world’s largest smartphone maker, Samsung, announced two major pieces of news to take its automotive strategy up a gear. It has launched the Samsung Automotive Innovation Fund, a $300 million fund to back startups and other interesting bets in the automotive market. And as a first investment out of that… Read More

IFA 2017’s biggest announcements

 The September time frame positions the Berlin show perfectly as a launch pad for holiday products. As such, some of tech’s biggest names use it to debut some of their biggest products of the year. It’s also proven a solid showcase for some of the wackier startups that have had a tough time getting noticed at larger shows. Here is a list of the best that this year’s IFA has… Read More

Samsung heir handed 5-year jail sentence for bribery

 Samsung vice chairman and the company’s heir apparent Jay Y. Lee is headed to jail after a court in Korean ruled that he is guilty of bribery, embezzlement, capital flight and perjury charges. Lee, who has been earmarked as the future leader of the company, was handed a five-year jail sentence, although he is expected to appeal the decision. He took a board seat at Samsung last year in… Read More

The Rise of Intelligent Assistants

I embarked on a 30 day blogging challenge to restore my childlike curiosity for writing (more about it here). Please sign up to my newsletter to receive the latest updates. This is day nine.

Today I’d like to cover Intelligent Assistants. Perhaps this is cheating a bit, because it’s a post I originally published on Medium on June 22nd. Then I had played with my first two home assistants (Amazon Echo I bought for my mom and a Google Home I received as a gift) and realised the potential these devices have not only in the home, but very soon also in the car

This year, 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant at least once a month, doubling last year’s figure, forecasts eMarketer. I don’t normally like to predict things, but here’s one: Home assistants are here to stay.

Home assistants (connected speakers and screens used at home) will become mainstream and will join the list of basic appliances for the home.

It will be partly contributed by rapid decline in prices and bundles with mobile operators, cable /ISP providers etc. The manufacturers will just want you to have one. The use case will start as basic: they will power shopping for the home, digital media plays (images, videos, music, podcasts) and perhaps be the hub for managing all other connected appliances.

Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Alibaba already have a play in the space. Who’s next?

I predict that Facebook will come out with a home assistant in the next year, based on Mark’s pet project “Jarvis” (learn more about it here). The product will either be Facebook made hardware (maybe by someone from the Oculus team?) or a powerful digital app for Google Home, Apple’s Homepod and Amazon Echo/ Alexa. Microsoft will eventually launch one too, who knows, Maybe Twitter will have its own flavour with breaking news alerts and real-time updates: highlights from your sports games, live streaming and TV reminders. Of course, soon enough we’ll find the cheap Chinese version at Walmart.

Will Mark Zuckerberg’s pet project become the next big market for Facebook?

What’s at stake for the large tech companies? Data primarily, but also premium subscriptions and engagement. The first thing you’re asked when installing Google Home is to connect to a music service. There are currently only two options?—?Google Music (one month free, £9.99 thereafter) or Spotify (you must have a paid subscription to use it on Google Home). They are adding Soundcloud and Deezer soon, as announced on Google I/O in May. There’s no option to connect to YouTube, because it’s free. Same goes for the Echo?—?unless you’re a Prime subscriber, you’ll get limited usability with the Echo, but paying £79.99 unlocks TV, Music and other content.

Google home is positioned as “it’s your own Google, always there to help”. Google invested a lot in voice recognition is connecting the speaker to a long list of compatible partners.

Apple

Apple just joined the market with the HomePod, and is trying to differentiate on the quality of the speaker and the beauty of the design. You can see the differences in this helpful chart by Business Insider:

 

Apple Homepod - “A breakthrough speaker all round”

Apple Homepod – “A breakthrough speaker all round”

Amazon

Amazon, the pioneer in the space, recently introduced Amazon Echo Showand added a screen to the speaker, as well as new capabilities like Alexa calling (Google just announced hands-free calling from Google Home at Google IO in May). Google is likely to follow with its own screen product shortly, but for now it’s focusing on connecting Google Home to the TV and showing content on the TV using voice commands. Google is already trying to catch up with the Echo’s 10,000 skills.

 

Amazon Echo Show - “Voice control your world”

Amazon Echo Show – “Voice control your world”

Amazon Echo Install base – source: Business Insider

Facebook

On July 24th (about a month after originally publishing this post), my prediction came true! Facebook is rumoured to be working on a smart speaker with a 15 inch touch screen, according to Digitimes. The news were leaked though sources from the “upstream supply chain”. Instead of voice recognition functionality, the company will focus more on image display. The development of Facebook’s intelligent assistant is being handled by Facebook’s Building 8, under the leadership of Regina Dugan, former Google vice president of advanced technology and projects (Google ATAP) and veteran of DARPA. More on Techcrunch.

The Facebook smart speaker received a further boost yesterday, with the announcement of Facebook’s acquisition of Ozlo, a self described index of knowledge about the real world. Users can ask Ozlo’s bot questions and its AI-powered assistant can quickly answer thanks to “a knowledge graph containing over 2 billion entities”. This technology will no doubt be instrumental to power the new Facebook Home Assistant. You’ve read it here first folks! Ozlo will be joining the Messenger team. More on Business Insider.

Facebook’s conversational UI will fit well in the world of Smart Assistants

Alibaba

On July 3rd, Alibaba announced its own Alexa competitor which only speaks Chinese addressing the local Chinese Market.

The Tianmao JinglingX1 (Mandarin for “Tmall Genie”), offers voice-control over other connected smart home devices as well as on-demand weather, news updates, and streaming music. The Tmall Genie can also order products from Alibaba’s Tmall online shopping site. Amazon does not currently offer Chinese-language support for its Echo device.

Alibaba’s Tianmao JinglingX1 smart speaker

Samsung

On July 4th news came out that Samsung is said to be making a smart speaker powered by its digital assistant Bixby. While Samsung already has a line of smart speakers, today they can only play music. Needless to say that this future smart assistant device will face steep competition from the get go, as Samsung is coming late to the party.

Samsung's Multiroom 360 speaker - a predecessor of a smart assistant speaker?

Samsung’s Multiroom 360 speaker – a predecessor of a smart assistant speaker?

Microsoft and Harman Kardon

On May 8th, a leak confirmed that Microsoft is also coming out with the Invoke speaker, a Cortana-powered smart speaker for the home and the car in partnership with tier one supplier to the automotive industry, Harman Kardon. The Invoke speaker will include 360-degree sound, Skype calling, and the ability to ask Cortana questions. Microsoft announced the product on May 8th, and it will be available this fall. More about it on the Verge.

The Invoke Hero is a Cortana powered smart speaker by Harman Kardon

Xiaomi

On July 26th, Xiaomi announced a $45 smart speaker, called Mi AI. The Verge points out that it’s $130 cheaper than Amazon Echo. the six-microphone Mi AI Speaker features a digital assistant and lets users control IoT devices from Xiaomi and select third-parties; available in China from August; unclear if or when it will launch it other markets.

Xiaomi MI AI speaker – costs $130 less than Amazon Echo

Where is the Intelligent Assistant market going?

AI powered assistant, always on, connected to devices… sounds familiar? The connected speakers of today, will be the control hub for the smart home of the future, replacing our use of phones at home and perhaps being the predecessors of home robots. Think about it, if the Robot can fulfil our every request, stream in HD, chat with your pets, clean and run errands around the house, we’re pretty close to that already. In fact, an early version is already here: take a look at Kuri, by Mayfield Robotics.

That said, there are still significant  limitations in the voice human-machine interface, namely that we still find it a bit awkward talking to a device, especially in public. As AI improves along with voice recognition and the ability of these machines to understand accents and increase the functionality, I can imagine my kids growing with smart assistants in a natural way, and continue to use them in the car and home throughout the day. The new search interface may not be a google homepage/app.

 

Here’s an early look at the Samsung Galaxy Note 8

 We’re just weeks away from Samsung’s next major launch event on August 23, and already we have a full visual of the device it is expected to unveil — the Galaxy Note 8. That’s courtesy of prolific smartphone leaker Evan Blass — who correctly detailed Samsung’s Galaxy S8 before it was announced earlier this year — and a couple of photos of the… Read More

Samsung posts record quarterly profit despite scandals

 Despite being slammed by scandals, Samsung just recorded a record quarter of business with a net profit of $9.9 billion for Q2 2017. The Korea firm has been rocked by the recall of the Galaxy Note 7 and the prosecution of de facto leader Jay Y. Lee on bribery charges, but that didn’t stop it from pulling in revenue of $54.8 billion during the three-month period. That revenue figure rose… Read More

Samsung’s Unpacked event happens August 23, likely bringing the Galaxy Note 8 with it

 Samsung’s next Unpacked event is arriving right on schedule — and all signs point to it bringing the Galaxy Note 8 along for the ride. The big show lines up with the phablet’s traditional release schedule, and the graphic appears to show an Infinity Display version of the Note 8, along with the requisite S-Pen (don’t call it a) stylus. Read More

Chinese brands have invaded Indonesia’s fast-growing smartphone market

 If you’re looking for a market with smartphone sales growth potential then India usually comes to mind, but the market is moving forward with much promise in Indonesia, the world’s sixth largest country. A new report from IDC shows that smartphones sales in the country accelerated by 13 percent year-on-year during the first quarter of 2017. A total of 7.3 million devices shipped… Read More